Is there any information on how often air levels are checked within a five-mile radius of the dump? Dealing with this toxic environment so close to an elementary school, homes and businesses should be Cayman’s top priority. But in the meantime, how close an eye is being kept on toxicity levels? With thanks, a very concerned grandparent.
Auntie’s answer: What an interesting and important question! Anyone who has driven down the Esterley Tibbetts Highway on a “bad” day can unfortunately attest to the odours wafting from the landfill that are almost impossible to bear. It is certainly reasonable to try to determine if those odours carry with them toxicity.
I asked your question of the Department of Environmental Health (DEH) and an official first explained that there is “no established schedule or frequency in place to check on ambient air quality (air levels)” within those five miles you cited. It was suggested, however, that this type of check “may be part of the proposed Integrated Solid Waste Management System and the ongoing monitoring of the landfill”.
The official also indicated that some private organisations may have been monitoring the air quality around Cayman International School, which is right by the dump.
Formally, though, he said the most recent information on air quality related to the landfill is contained in the AMEC Foster Wheeler Landfill Site Environmental Review of the dump released in August 2015.
The DEH representative then pointed out the review included measurements of pollutants at separate receptions and summarised the report’s conclusions. For purposes of clarity and ensuring nothing is lost in my translation, I am quoting directly from the DEH about the review’s findings:
- Maximum hourly average predicted concentrations of all trace pollutants were well within the specific short-term health-related assessment criteria. However, hydrogen sulfide exceeded the WHO guideline as producing an odour nuisance. (It should be noted that odours will vary depending on wind directions and time of day etc. Also, when the pond areas are drying out during the summer months hydrogen sulfide can often emanate during that process.)
- Modelling the long-term estimations of surface emissions of landfill gas also revealed that while breaching odour nuisance guidelines, mostly due to hydrogen sulphide downwind of the site, none of the other trace pollutants were predicted to exceed the relevant assessment criteria.
- Dust monitoring in the same April 2015 study also did not show any breaches of the EC/UK standard for dust, even downwind of the site.
- The environmental investigators did not find any asbestos in the air samples they collected.
- The study also referenced fires, which have potential significant impact. But these are much rarer these days with improved management practices and better means of dealing promptly with fires. The ongoing processing of the used-tyre stockpile should continue to reduce this risk.
If you want more details and lots of numbers, feel free to peruse the attached review.
My take on the situation, for what it’s worth, is that while the dump is unsightly, and there certainly are many and varied toxins residing therein, none is apparently in a high-enough concentration to do you – or your grandchildren – any harm through the air. In addition, the occurrence of random dump fires with all the associated black noxious smoke should continue to decline, says the DEH, as the enormous pile of tyres is reduced thanks to the shredding operation.
While that is all positive news, it does seem to indicate that the horrible hydrogen-sulfide-induced odour will continue to be an issue, even more so as we head into summer. I translate that to mean that the dump will continue to stink but the odour won’t hurt us (physically as least). The adjacent land and water is another story.